Senior staff writer
The Near-Southside community stepped up Monday night and made its desires known for the future of Emmerich Manual High School. More than 150 stakeholders in Manual’s future discussed options for the 123-year-old Indianapolis Public School, presently operated by Charter Schools USA under a State Board of Education contract that expires in June 2020.
The board has appointed a seven-member task force to obtain public input so it can present recommendations to the board in March. Manual alumni and supporters understand that the future of the school is at stake, and they are fighting to keep it open beyond June 2020.
“This high school was foundational to the success that I have had,” said Bill Byrd, Class of 1964, during small-group discussions Monday. “This place is foundational to the success of our nation and the world.” After separating into nine groups, attendees zeroed in on consensus to save the school:
• Urge the school operator to pursue a charter.
• IPS could consider the high school as an innovative school, similar to the status of Grades K-6 at Emma Donnan.
• Return Manual to IPS, even with its status as a successful turnaround school would mean closure.
• Expand the high school’s role as an academic center with an emphasis on agriculture, business, culinary arts, criminal justice, health, computer science and skilled professions.
If Manual is closed, stakeholders said they believe the students would have less opportunity to graduate; crime would increase in the area; and the vacant school buildings would be detrimental to economic growth.
Manual and Howe high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School were designated as failing schools by the board; Charter Schools was named to operate the three schools beginning with the 2012-13 school year.
One big question yet to be answered: Where would funds come from if Manual were to become a charter school? One small group wanted to know: “If CSUSA is meeting goals, why isn’t IPS interested in Manual and Emma Donnan returning to IPS?”
Five of the seven task force members were in the audience: David Freitas of the board; Jackie Cissell of Charter Schools; community representative Aryn Schounce; staff representative Jessika Osborne; and parent representative Jesse Chrisentary, who is the mother of two students at Manual and one at Emma Donnan.
“There is history still to be made,” stated Eric Lewis, CSUSA administrator told the crowd. “Our mission has been to develop higher levels of achievement not only in the short term but for long-term substantial success.”
The final community hearing will be held Feb. 6 at the Burrello Family Center at Garfield Park; then the fate of Manual will be in the board’s hands. Public input can be made by emailing charlie@schoolcommunity insight.org or by calling 317-222-6620.